Builders Put Welcome Mat Out for New Eco-Houses : West Coast interest is rising over topics like sustainable landscapes, healthy homes and energy-efficient construction.


All of a sudden in the building business it's fashionable to be environmental. Up and down the West Coast from Vancouver to Ventura County's patch of Malibu Hills, there have been sightings--much more substantial than the Elvis sort--of environmentally friendly building projects under way and also lots of environmental seminars for major builders and architects.

Considering the number of invitations I have received by mail or fax, I could have spent every one of the past 90 days kibitzing at conferences or playing looky-loo at various eco-homes--and never left the Pacific time zone. A few situations were irresistible.

I don't know what has happened recently in towns other than quake-damaged Los Angeles that might be causing this increased interest in energy-efficient construction and retrofitting, drought-tolerant planting and use of recycled building materials. But such is the case.

Last week, a delegation from our county, including members of Ventura County's chapter of the American Institute of Architects, trekked up to Santa Barbara to share ideas with experts from around the nation on topics such as eco-villages, sustainable landscapes, adaptive reuse and creating healthy homes. Those are code words for the various approaches to building on the planet without ruining its health and our own.

One of the participants, Julie Shular, who is building her own house in our county, attended a seminar she called "The Green Team and the Design Process." The formal title of the panel, indeed the title of the whole Santa Barbara shebang, was "Designing for Sustainable Communities."

Shular isn't an architect, but rather an owner-contractor. She went to the symposium to discuss the fine points of building what she sees as "a 21st Century environmental home," which will be constructed on her Houston Road property in Ventura County near Malibu. Her architect is Paul Bierman-Lytle, internationally famous proponent of resource-and-energy-thrifty homebuilding.

This involves solar-powered heating and cooling, recycled materials such as plastic and steel, and landscaping that is both lovely and resource efficient.

"I tend to be a realist about what's possible," Shular said of her project, which has passed muster with the Ventura County Planning Department and is about to be submitted to the Building and Safety Department.

If you're interested in seeing and getting inside a home with these features, and don't mind a drive up the coast, there's an opportunity this weekend to satisfy your curiosity. Fifteen "eco-homes" are being opened to the public as part of an organized architectural study tour in San Luis Obispo, which will give you an idea of what may become mainstream in the 21st Century.

And if you can't wait 57 months until the millennium arrives, you can buy one of the eco-houses being shown on the tour. Or, if you are planning a move farther north, check out Davis, where there is an entire eco-friendly subdivision called Village Homes.

While in Northern California, I also learned of yet another indicator of the eco-trend. This past Monday, the Pacific Stock Exchange began trading issues in a Ukiah-based company called Real Goods.

"RGT.P," as it is listed, sells the hardware to make your home eco-perfect. The stock appreciated 50% in its first day on the market.

I mean, is this eco-building stuff a trend, or what?


* FYI: For consultations with an architect concerning an "eco-home," call Ventura Chapter of the American Institute of Architects. 988-0035.

* TOUR: For information on the "Eco-Home Tour" in San Luis Obispo on Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. (tickets $10), call 595-2605.

* INFO: For a report on environmental building methods from the recent Santa Barbara symposium, "Designing for Sustainable Communities," call Detlev Peikert, 566-0286.

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